Sunday, January 02, 2011
Book Review - LUCKY by Alice Sebold
I just finished listening to the audio book "Lucky" by Alice Sebold. I have to admit, had I known what the book was going to be about, I would have passed. However, having very much enjoyed her highly acclaimed novel "The Lovely Bones", when I saw her name on the CD case of this one sitting on the library shelf I scooped it up without much looking. I knew Sebold to be a writer with the capacity to craft incredibly powerful word pictures, whose sentences riveted me. I was very much looking forward to another one of her tales.
However, it became apparent in the first five minutes this was no novel. It is, in fact, her harrowing autobiographical account of having been brutally raped by a stranger at age 18, of the trial that convicted her assailant and all the many ways that having been so savagely violated impacted her life. She didn't flinch with words in describing exactly what happened to her. She describes the brutality and degradation of the attack in infinite detail. Yet she also does not over sensationalize her experience of being a "victim" of a violent sex crime. She relays her experiences in matter-of-fact report which she reads nearly dead-pan, with all the passion and inflection of Joe Friday.
Sebold's skill with words served her well as she wove her story. I was particularly impressed by the balance with which she gave back story vignettes of her childhood and about her family, just enough to portray a clear picture of who the 18 year old virgin was that was attacked that day that forever severed her life into a grim dichotomy of before and after. By having a picture of who she was as a daughter and as a sister, seeing what she was like in high school as well as getting glimpses into her freshman college friendships it allows the reader to more fully comprehend the split between the "before" Alice Sebold and the after.
Where the book fell down some was towards the end where she brushes around a period of her life that seemed equally significant. She alludes to much with shadow images she never quite brings into view. Particularly because of the unscathing detail of the earlier parts it made the later sections feel something between rushed and deliberately vague, which I found unsatisfying.
Overall though, this is a very powerful, well written book. It's not for everyone as it does have extremely graphic descriptions of her assault which could be a painful trigger for anyone with their own baggage of trauma history, which sadly includes far too many people. However, those willing to bear witness to the horrific part of Sebold's experience that accounts for the first few pages will be drawn in and captivated by her descriptions of coming to terms with that event - how it changed her and how she made sense of her life in the aftermath.
MOST people will not experience what Sebold did. However, sexual violence is far from a rare occurrence in this country.
A website from Ohio University reports that "In the United States, 1.3 women are raped every minute. That results in 78 rapes each hour, 1872 rapes each day, 56160 rapes each month and 683,280 rapes each year. 1 out of every 3 American women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. The United States has the world's highest rape rate of the countries that publish such statistics. It's 4 times higher than Germany, 13 times higher than England, and 20 times higher than Japan."
As horrific as it is for a woman (or man, for that matter) to have to experience, too often that experience is made worse because of the negative social perceptions and stigma associated with it. In the book "Lucky" Sebold describes what it was like being looked at as "the girl who was raped" and the degree to which she internalized the view of being damaged goods.
This is a powerful book to read because it is incredibly well written. It is an important book to read because it takes an unscathing look not only at the ugly crime of rape, but also on the social and legal responses to that crime.